YA Literature Blog

So What? - 8/5/23

Write about how what you have learned and done in this course matters to your future students and classroom work. Where have you struggled? What are the big ideas that might inform what you do next? Will you be a teacher who reads? What do you need subsequent courses to help you discover when it comes to YA in our classrooms? And, what are you eager to read next?


I think the question of "will you be a teacher who reads?" is a very interesting one. I've always been a person who reads, but I'm still trying to figure out how to be a teacher who reads. Learning to read with an eye for other people's perspectives is pretty difficult when I've spent my whole life up until now reading for my personal pleasure and benefit. I think this is just a habit I'll need to work on building, but I want to do this carefully, because I think being a person who reads is a necessary prerequisite for being a teacher who reads. It seems like it would be a good idea to read any selections I'm planning for a class for my own pleasure first, and then to read them again with an intentional state of mind. How could I lead students to fully immerse themselves in the literature if I haven't done so myself?

To my previous point, I want to use my time in following courses to understand what I'm looking for in greater detail when I read YA. What stands out to me isn't always what will stand out, or even be understandable at first, to students. College lit classes are very different from high school in rigor and intentionality, which I'm already seeing in my mentor teacher's classroom. I've been suprised at how much help eevn advanced classes still need! I need to get a better grasp on what is reasonable to expect from students at this level. I don't want to ruin a reading experience by pushing them too much without enough scaffolding to suppport meaningful learning. For example, a lot of the discussion our cohort has done as adult learners in ENGL courses depends on us knowing a lot about global history, literary history, critical theory, and other knowledge that we were not exposed to in high school. Revisiting the entire landscape of what high schoolers are expected to understand at each grade level would be super helpful to me, to be sure that I'm providing enough background when we try to discuss more complex topics.

I've enjoyed YA lit, but I think reading so much of it has made me more excited to get back into reading adult lit more frequently, because I personally don't feel challenged enough by most texts we've read. I think it would be a good idea to continue keeping track of everything I read though, because I imagine that some students would be looking for those more challenging texts as well, and I could help connect them. But in regards to YA, I'm really excited to finish reading Braiding Sweetgrass, which I've just started!! One thing I really like about YA is that it gives me a solid starting place to begin exploring new cultures, because they are usually written with beginners in mind. Things are explained much more clearly than in adult lit.

Book Clubs - 7/26/23

Describe how you might build a book club unit including at least one of the books you have taken up IN THE COURSE. What will your students read? How will they read? When? What function does the book club serve? And, what work will the book club produce? How might this structure MATTER purposefully in your teaching?


For this discussion, I'll be imagining a book club that could address the topics of war, immigration, and generational trauma within the graphic novel genre. Some titles might include "The Magic Fish" by Trung Le Nguyen, "Maus" by Art Spiegelman, and "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi. Besides the fact that I think these are all excellent stories, I imagine that graphic novels would be a good pick for a first book club of the semester, as they are probably less intimidating for students to have to read all on their own. These three books also focus on three different parts of the world and periods in time. I imgagine that more variety would make it more likely that each student could find a preference. Here's a simple breakdown of what one day of a 3 week unit might look like:

  • 1. Students are given copies of each book to flip through, and then decide which one they want to read.
  • 2. For a class of 30 kids (which is similar to my Fall class rosters), students will be allowed to pick groups of 3-5 students to spend the rest of the unit reading with. In total, the class might have 6 to 8 groups. This should make it manageable for everyone to have time to talk during group, but also not so many groups that I wouldn't be able to check in properly with everyone.
  • 3. Students are given 15 minutes of independent reading time at the beginning of every class period (block schedule).
  • 4. For each day of reading, students are expected to write something down in a journal. This can be a sketch, or a comment on a specific page, or a question about what they read that day. This is not a graded task, but I may go around during talking time and ask permission to read what students have written, or help connect ideas that students are having between groups.
  • 5. Talking time: right after reading time, we'll go right into discussion so that ideas are fresh. They'll have 15 minutes just to talk about whatever they want. They can use their jounrals to guide discussion. I will have a more "global" guiding question up on the board that they can use if they're not sure where to start.
  • 6. During this 20 minutes, each group comes up with one question they're still wondering about for that day's section. They'll type this into a shared Google Doc, so that each group reading the same book can see it. For the last 10 minutes, groups will discuss, and each student will write in at least one response to the others' questions. If they have multiple ideas, they can write multiple answers. Hopefully this will increase their sense of ownership over their ideas, as it's connected with helping a classmate. Alternatively, they may go back to answer questions from previous weeks that they have gained new insight on.
  • 7. For the remaining time in class (around 45 minutes?), we'll come back together as a class and discuss the topics of the books on a broader scale.
  • To expand more on #7, we might spend one week each of a 3 week unit talking about the Vietnam War, the Holocaust, and the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Over that week, we can look at short stories, poems, or interviews from authors of the same background. We might also take time to look at photos, videos, or infographics dissecting the real-life context of these events.

    The final assignment for each book group will be choosing a section of 5-10 pages and leading the class through a short presentation (10-15 minutes) on how those pages and illustrations develop the themes of the story, or an individual characterization. They will be expected to bring in some historical detail, as well as to analyze the visual craft of the author. I want to practice reading graphic novels as deeply as text, and recognizing the different artistic skills that go into telling a story through visuals as well as words. It might be good to give my own example presentation on another graphic novel, and to spend some of our class days discussing how visual language works. Maybe some mini-projects on Fridays where we draw our own comics would be helpful! They could be shown off on the wall as decoration too :) Overall, I want students to use these projects to again feel ownership over their work. By teaching and showing others what they've learned, they demonstrate a mastery of their ideas, and practice effective communication skills within small groups towards a common goal of helping the larger group. They should also be able to start seeing connections and comparisons between the three stories, even between fiction and nonfiction.

    Kittle and Gallagher - 7/19/23

    Looking carefully and thoughtfully with what Kittle and Gallagher lay out here (as their pedagogical structures - and their commitments), what resonates with you? What do you want to challenge or question? Does this enrich or complicate your growing YA pedagogy?


    This whole chapter had a lot of really excellent and specific examples of activities, which I really appreciate. It's much easier to think about what would work, or how I want to adapt an idea to work, if I can look at some clear building blocks to start from. The thought log and conversation moves prompt sheets seemed like something that would be useful to print out for everyone to keep in their journal. They have enough substance to be effective structural supports, without giving away pre-written ideas. Cross-country reading also caught my eye! It sounds like a great opportunity to diversify the types of voices in the classroom discussion, especially if you can connect with a group who is from a totally different part of the country. An international exchange would be interesting too!!

    I have one big question. They said that participation increased during the completely free-choice book clubs, but this was after a semester of build-up. Would this be as effective if students were given free-choice from the get-go? I think there are more variables at play here than the authors are agknowledging, and I want to know more about developing effective autonomy-support in the high-school age range.

    I HUGELY disagree that we should think of the literary analysis essay as "fake school writing" that can get a pass on being formulaic. While it may be easier to scaffold at first, I feel that this formulaic writing is ultimately less enjoyable and less effective for both reader and writer. We spend plently of time thinking about medium, form, organization, and all these other whole-text qualities when we discuss literature, so why are we ignoring them in our own craft? The traditional five-paragraph-essay is not necessarily the best form for conveying every argument. Instead, how can we teach creativity through these qualities? I would love to work with a variety of different example essay styles in my classroom, and allow students a lot more flexibility in what counts as an "essay".

    Ginsberg and the Cage - 7/12/23

    Write about what from this chapter moves and challenges your thinking about what English teaching IS and does - and what's at stake in our work. Start to list for yourself - what are your non-negotiables as a teacher of readers when it comes to reading or work with YA and middle grades texts? You won't be building an elective course in YA - but all of the steps toward it are possibilities. What resonates with you and why?


    While I don't think Ginsberg's cage metaphor is really the most accurate visualization, there was one line that stood out to me. "For other readers, the cage is made of paper, and all it needs is you and/or a school-level or local community with the willingness and readiness to... build something new," she writes on page 26. We've discussed a lot of situations in which the cage might be very strong, where it will take a lot of work and work-arounds to get the right things done, but not so much the other side. I think that expecting to encounter high resistance at all times to new and justice-seeking pedagogies can be very intimidating, especially to new teachers, which makes it scarier to try. I want to think more about these papery situations, where the situation is ripe for change, but maybe everyone is feeling intimidated, and so no one even attempts to break through. How many situations we encounter every day (within a classroom or not) might be a lot easier to change than we anticipate?

    In our Tuesday zoom meeting, Dr. Kajder gave us the advice that we should slowly ramp up to truly rattling the cage over our first few years of teaching, and I've been thinking about this a lot. I'm still not sure how to take this advice. I instinctually disagree, because I feel like it's starting off on the wrong foot and would only cause me to become more habitually complacent with the way things are (i.e. not seeing paper walls for what they are). But I also know that I've never had a real professional job before, or real adult persona to manage, and so I don't have a deep enough understanding of what it really means to rock the boat in your workplace. I suspect that I would be frustrated with myself if I just said "okay year 1 is a free pass to Sit Back Quietly," but I do want to be practical enough to test the waters in the right way first. I want to think some more, and maybe write out an exact plan of ideas I want to do or test or ask by X month, X year. Patience seems to be a professional quality I need to work on.

    On a completely different topic: the vignette about the teacher who totally reworked a unit plan around the students' interest was super exciting to me! The idea of kids being so into a lesson that they want to make their own lesson plans is awesome, and it came about so organically. How do I make good teacher decisions about when the opportunity is right to latch onto a student idea and allow them to intiate a change of course? It can't happen all the time because we need some order, but you also aren't guaranteed that another chance will come around. What can I pay better attention to in my classroom in order to increase the likelihood of these instances? Another thing I loved about this example was how the kids wanted other kids to learn from their created lesson plans. That signals a huge amount of ownership and confidence in their skills. Are there smaller, more frequent ways I can encourage this kind of feeling about students' own work?

    More YA Ideas - 7/5/23

    What do Buehler's ideas complicate when it comes to the pedagogies you imagine enacting with your own students? What questions do these approaches raise for you? Is this subject English as you experienced it or have seen classrooms work? Does something here capture your imagination?


    These three chapters addressed a lot of ideas and strategies that I'd already been introduced to, just with specific direction towards YA. I feel like this is an all-around pedagogy that could be taken into consideration no matter what you're reading in a class. The idea of using literature to help students relate to and understand their own real-life questions came up in this chapter again. That seems like the overriding theme with all of these textbook pieces on English education.

    I liked the one teacher's example of choosing as a group whether or not to continue reading a book. She seemed to still be digging into the material and validating the critical skills that students learn by talking about what doesn't work. I think this kind of approach is really helpful for fostering writing skills. If students really really hate something about a book, maybe an engaging assignment would have to do with rewriting it themselves. This goes back to the previous week's discussion on only having adult voices as authors. Getting to read what my peers write instead would have been fun!

    A few examples of book matchmaking were presented, and I'm leaning more towards having students get involved rather than pick out books all on my own. The text was talking about having to read a hundred books a summer, just to end up choosing 15 for class. Why not ask students to help write reviews of the books they like as a supplement to my own teacher-reading. They're almost always going to have their finger better on the pulse of what other students will gravitate towards. Maybe it could be a full editorial magaine project. The text briefly mentioned using YA critical reviews as another source for class material, so that would be a good extension project after that type of reading.

    The last idea that I would love to implement would be the intra- and inter-class journals. That looked like it would be a great solution for students who are not confident speaking up during discussion to still share their ideas anonymously. Also, sharing between class periods sounded wonderful, especially if it's connecting students from different "levels" of the same class on a topic. This could get complicated though, so I wish the textbook shared more details about the implementation... how and when do students get to read this shared journal? Should participation be mandatory? (I'm leaning towards no.) Should the teacher provide prompts, or just let students write freely?

    Reading with a Youth Lens - 6/28/23

    How are adolescents portrayed and positioned in the literature we have been reading together? How might we use the adolescent lens to consider the two texts you read for this week - and those in the Zenter and King books we began the course with? How is (if at all) this amplifying and useful? Does this complicate your thinking about what we do as teachers of YA literature - or of adolescents who read?


    Wow!! I really really wish that we had started off with this reading first, because this is something I've genuinely never thought of in this way before. I realized that I hold/held pretty much all of the four sterotyped beliefs about adolescence explained in Chapter 4 in some way or another. Those stereotypes were all so "naturalized" in my life so far, and I never was asked to question them, especially not in school. Chapter 3 mentions how adult training in human development often reinforces these beliefs, and that statement made me want to go back and reasses literally everything I've been working on with my elementary-school research. Different modes of socialization as "children" never occured to me as an important variable. Of course it makes total sense to me that "adolescence" is in some way a conditioned, socially enforced pattern of behaviors, but I have never seen it spelled out like that in the same way that I've been thinking about gender or race or class over the years. I've already thought a lot in this major about how I want to support students' growth and autonomy going into adulthood, but doesn't framing it as "growth" imply that there is something lacking in their ability to be autonomous or fully-fuctioning as a person? The book points out that in Dante and Aristotle, Ari half-jokes that "Fifteen-year-olds don't qualify as people." In what ways do my ideas about lesson planning and classroom organization reinforce my students' understanding of themselves as not-yet-people? The common practice of not letting students eat or sit wherever or go to the bathroom whenever they want comes to mind first, but I think there's definitely more at play on the conversational and activity level. Giving students autonomy in their learning experience isn't just about fostering skills they will need later in life, but about a basic respect of personhood in the moment.

    I'm going to pay much closer attention to how characters in our books are portrayed As Adolescents moving forward, because I wasn't reading with the intent of finding examples up until now. I did find some more appreciation for In The Wild Light, though, for the way the main character has such deep and sincere affection for his grandparents. It's not just affection either; he actually makes time with them a priority and a major conflict is resolving self-interest with his social values regarding them. I don't think I've read a book before that wouldn't have positioned a teen as jumping at the chance to go to a fancy school and get away from their family, even if they love them. We could deepen that discussion too by talking about how his life as a rural, working-class adolescent affected his experience with a "standard" teenage lifestyle. Maybe I will re-read to see what I might have been missing (although no promises that I'll like it better this time lol).

    "Reading With Passion and Purpose" - 6/21/23

    What does Beuhler share that complicates or challenges your thinking about teaching with YA literature - or supporting independent readers in your classroom work? Are you coming from a similar or different position when it comes to your own plans for your classroom? Or, in other words, tell us about YOUR developing YA pedagogy. How do you distinguish between a middle grades and a YA title? Do both have a place in your YA developing pedagogy?


    I think I've realized that I was thinking of YA lit like a stepping stone towards adult lit, when it really is serving a totally unique purpose as a parallel genre. As one of those people who keeps getting older every year, I remember less and less of being a kid myself. Reading YA lit for the first time in a long while did a great job of putting me back into that empathetic perspective. I think I'm going to make a habit of keeping at least a couple new YA books on my personal reading list every year, just to make sure that I'm always reminding myself of what it feels to be a middle/highschooler. Maybe it would be a good idea to try to get recommendations from my actual students? Finger on the pulse, etc. Also, I'm not really sure if I see a huge difference between middle-grades and YA yet, besides the characters' general ages. Do middle-grades just have less sex, drugs, and rock n' roll?

    In chapter one, Beuhler describes the positives of using YA to connect to a larger community of--and conversation between--readers. She ends the paragraph with a rhetorical question: "What could be more energizing?" But honestly, I think this can be read as a genuine question too. A couple of the books I've read so far have definitely not been energizing to me, even when I thought the premise had a lot of potential. So those books might fit well enough into a slot in my curriculum, but what could be more energizing? There's literally millions of books out there, and it seems to me that part of my job as a "book-to-student matchmaker" is to keep reading until I can find a text that showcases the theme I'm looking for more artfully, more complexly, more uniquely. Not just "includes," but showcases!! (Consider Beuhler's later comment about profit-chasing "copycat" writers.)

    Beuhler's discussion of real-world practicality and growing the motivation to push yourself to read deeper stuck out to me a lot because this is something I've been thinking about a lot during my research position in the Educational Psych department! One of the qualities that we're investigating is how often parents express the "utility value" of understanding probability to their children, e.g. 'if you understand why two dice add up to certain numbers more often, you can get better at that board game you like.' Unsurprisingly, the kids of these parents seem to be more enagaged and take initiative more often in the experimental math game. I'm trying to think of ways that I can explicitly develop the idea of using reading as a tool in service of another goal... I don't think I ever had teachers in my own highschool classes give us more than "because...reading can be fun" or "...you'll need this in college" or (most often) "...you'll need this for the test". Homework for this week: pay more attention to when I use a 'reading skill' or seek out new book-knowledge to solve a real life problem, because I can't think of a solid example yet. When was the last time I actually chose a book with that kind of intentionality?

    Literacy and YA - 6/14/23

    How do you define the terms "literacy" and "adolescent literature?" Contextualize your response in your teaching, your experiences as a reader, the readings from this week, etc.


    I think "literacy" has a lot more to do with social development than we usually give it credit for! Of course it's about hard skills too, like having a large vocabulary, but there's a lot of soft social skills in there too. One kind of literacy is being able to distinguish "morals" from a book, especially when there are a lot of gray areas and complex characters. And from there, it's a form of literacy to be able to recall and point out connections between multiple books, or a book and your own life. I feel that reading a book without reflecting personally on it is not fully literate reading... You're absorbing an aesthetic experience without the essential communicative one, which is the point of writing to me. In this light, I think a person's individual literacy skill can change a lot depending on their mood or the content of the writing, even if the actual words are quantitatively the same level of difficulty. For example, in Into the Wild Light, I was culturally illiterate to the customs of Appalachia and of Connecticut. By a similar token, I was illiterate to the personal experience of dealing with substance abuse. It creates a situation for the reader where certain niche details might fly over their head because they don't have the social literacy to expect or attach importance to them. In regards to mood, I think my increasing annoyance with that book made it harder and harder for me to care about engaging with the novel. Illiteracy by attitude. So in this case, learning to manage personal emotions in order to continue engaging a frustrating text in a deep way is probably a really good step in the right direction for skilled literacy.

    Adolescent literature as a genre isn't something that I've thought very hard about before, so I'm not totally sure where to start. On one hand, I don't think it can be defined by pure vocab and plot complexity. There are plenty of kids who start reading books aimed at adults at really early ages (myself), and there are also a lot of adults who continue to read YA well past being kids themselves. Actually, this goes back to my point about social development and a depth of internalization that is separate from making it through the words on the page. Speaking from my own experience, I read a lot of adult-level books as a kid without having the social capacity to really "get" it. Kid-me thought that all the adults in The Little Prince were jerks, plain and simple, but the me who read it this year, with the experience of an adult, saw them as much more profoundly sad instead. Young people certainly experience life with the same emotional depth as adults do, but the processing capacity and well of memories to compare to is still developing. So with that in mind, I think the definition of YA has to include some nod to the being-ness of kids. It doesn't have to shy away from hard topics, but it has more work to do explaining the hows and whys than adult literature usually requires. In my experience, this seems to almost always end up coming across by using children as main characters themselves, although I would be interested to see how a YA-intended book with an adult main cast might play out...